Nick Gordon Brown speaks to transatlantic beat alchemist Snips about DJing for Kanye, his love of Kenny Dope and DJ Spinna, and ‘The Product’, “the record I always wanted to make but didn’t know it until I did it”.
NGB: Your CV on the hip hop scene is both long and impressive (on both sides of the Atlantic), but won't be familiar to everyone in the house world. Please tell us some of the highlights.
S: [As a DJ] DJing in a record store (Deal Real) in London back in 2004 for an impromptu performance by Kanye West & Mos Def may top this category. [As a producer] Landing two cuts on the last Giggs LP is probably a highlight in terms of production success in my career so far, which I’m very grateful for. I think on a very personal level it’s small things, like DJ Spinna purchasing my record without knowing who I was; or DJ Premier playing a track I had produced on his radio show, Sav Killz ‘I Can’t Take It’.
NGB: Have you always been into the house scene in tandem with your love of hip hop; and what first got you into experimenting with house in the studio?
S: I would say I have always “flirted” with house music a little, but my taste has always been quite specific and leaned heavily towards the soulful side of the genre. Growing up in the 80s and 90s it wasn’t abnormal as a hip hop head to buy Kenny Dope records and Nervous releases but I would say it was guys who walked that line between hip hop, house & soul music like DJ Spinna, Andres, Theo Parrish & Moodymann that really influenced me.
NGB: You've spoken in interviews of your love of soul (check Snips’ mix of classic UK soul here). Would you agree that it's sometimes overlooked that soul is deep within the DNA of both hip hop and house; and is that partly why you seem so adept at fusing the two?
S: Absolutely. Especially in today’s sterile world of electronic music that seems to be dominated by upper middle class “creatives” with very little rooting in either scene beyond what’s being fed to them via the obvious channels… oops, did I say that out loud? NGB: In a DJ set, you are one of a few DJs around at the moment who effortlessly cover multiple genres in a set - do you relish that freedom, and do you find most crowds go with you…?
S: I think when taking risks and dipping into varying genres you always run the risk of alienating some of your audience which is all part and parcel of trying to do something a little different.
I find for the most part if you have deep enough crates in each genre then you can always find a way to keep your audience entertained while still deviating from just playing the same old handful of records people are expecting. I struggle with a lot of what’s considered “Open Format” these days as it’s basically just a way of saying “varied pop music” for a lot of DJs.
NGB: ...whereas in the studio, do you find the way you approach making a hip hop or a house track is a very different discipline, or are parts of the process much the same?
S: I think the concept of trying to focus on the parts of each genre that resonate with me the most and fusing them together in a coherent way is a similar approach. Essentially my productions are a reflection of the kinda music I love and therefore the kinda music I try and play as often as I can. NGB: You have been involved in many collaborations - which ones have been particularly satisfying; and are there any lined up for the coming months that you could tell us about?
S: I honestly think working with Will Stowe has been the most satisfying so far. ‘The Product’ is the record I always wanted to make but didn’t know it until I did it. His whole approach to music is very open. I’m working with a few artists currently, but nothing’s set in stone as of yet.
I have just recorded a real gritty true school record with someone you would never expect to hear that sound from which I’m excited about, but you’ll have to watch this space to find out who!
NGB: ‘The Product’ was originally released on the ‘London Livin’ EP’ on your own label Barbershop. Can you tell us how that came together, and how the hook up with Classic came about?
S: So, ‘The Product’ was the first song we recorded. Once it was finished, I just wanted to make a 4 track EP that really covered the bases of the music I loved. I also have a straight RnB record on there with Emmavie who’s an incredible talent and I have a straight hip hop track with Awate, an amazing MC from North London who I have known for many years. The fourth track ‘My Queen’ is an instrumental that was really made with the dancefloor in mind and is probably the most traditional house sounding record on there.
The hook up with Classic came initially by Melvo Baptiste having heard the track and reaching out to me and including it on the Defected Miami 2019 compilation. After that I met with Luke Solomon when I was in London who decided he wanted to re-release ‘The Product’ on Classic.
NGB: What's the story behind the Barbershop label and what have you got in the pipeline?
S: The Barbershop really just became a concept that was a play on the name Snips. I liked the idea of the name ‘cause the Barbershop is one of the few spaces where we discuss music free of corporate influence as well. You’re always gonna hear the most honest opinion on music in the Barbershop. Parts of the actual video were filmed in the Barbers both myself and Will go to. I initially named my first LP The Barbershop, which was released on Houseology records, and then just decided to roll with it for my own label, which was really something I started just as a way to release my own music.
A follow up is definitely planned. For the next release I would like there to be more full songs rather than it just be an instrumental project. I’m already working on some potential collaborations and ideas.
NGB: Which other DJs and producers working now do you have particular respect for? S: In the hip hop world Shortee Blitz and Mr Thing in London have always been my two biggest inspirations. In NY guys like Stretch Armstrong, Moma and DJ Spinna are probably some of my favourites. I’m very grateful to have played alongside all of these DJs too.
Production wise, in hip hop my current favourites are probably Apollo Brown, Daringer, Nottz and Alchemist as well as the classic guys like Premier & Pete Rock who are still doing great stuff. In the house world my favourite current producers are Kai Alce and Andres. I also love what’s coming out of the jazz/broken beat world. Henry Wu, Dego, Chaos In The CBD etc. Louie Vega till this day can still not ever put a foot wrong to me. I love what Kon is doing too and the snippets I’ve heard from Eli Escobar’s next project sound amazing also. There’s a LOT of stuff I love.
NGB: Finally, could you give us a quick Desert Island Discs-style selection of a few records that mean a lot to you and why?
S: Nas’ Illmatic. I know it’s a cliché at this point but it really is the greatest hip hop album ever made.
Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key Of Life. See above but swap “hip hop” for “any genre of music”. It doesn’t get any better.
Super Cat’s Si Boops Deh. I’m a huge reggae and dancehall fan and this is the quintessential album for me. Super Cat really is the Don Dada and I can listen to this on repeat with no skips.